Spot a Parakeet Near You

Date: 
Tuesday, July 2, 2013

This is the time of year that Red Masked Parakeets (aka The Parrots of Telegraph Hill) start laying eggs in their nests. These bright green, red and yellow parrots are now well established in San Francisco, with more than 200 of them visible in much of the city (and occasionally even straying to the Peninsula and East Bay). These exotic birds are threatened in their native Ecuador and Peru, but small numbers do well in isolated parts of California and Florida, where handfuls of birds captured for the pet trade escaped and multiplied. They’ve been in San Francisco since the late 1980s.

Even though these birds are colorful and raucous, they are often ignored by residents and tourists alike. Walk by Lombard and Leavenworth and you’ll see hundreds of tourists totally oblivious to the parakeets’ loud calls from the trees right above the crooked street.

Red masked parakeets mostly nest in fan palms, which are another species that humans have brought to San Francisco. They will nest in other places – including in tree cavities, and even in holes in buildings. Their diet consists mainly of nuts, fruit, berries and blossoms (they love cherry blossoms!). They don’t need to be fed to survive (in fact it’s illegal to feed them in parks and public places), and have adapted well to our backyard plantings.

In the wintertime, the parrots like to roost together communally at night in our downtown parks. Right now they are mostly paired up, and spending time nesting around the city. You can see and hear them year-round in many parts of northern and eastern San Francisco. A book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, was written about them by Mark Bittner, who closely followed them in the 1990s. This was followed by a film with the same title, produced by Mark Bittner and Judy Irving.

Keep on the lookout for these birds throughout the city, particularly in northern and eastern San Francisco. You can also check out the "Parrots of Telegraph Hill" movie or book from the San Francisco Public Library. 


© Photos by David Assmann